Debates are a lot more interesting when the two main candidates show up. And Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer didn’t miss any chances to talk over each other during Wednesday night’s TVA French-language leadership debate.
No clear winner emerged but there were definitely more sparks this time around compared to the first Trudeau-less debate in Toronto. Apparently Trudeau thought a pointless boxing photo-op would put him in the right mind frame. (To maybe even it out, Scheer’s team put out a rather embarrassing photo of the Conservative leader swinging a baseball bat, suggesting he does not often swing a baseball bat.)
It would’ve made sense for Trudeau in his first debate this campaign to be on the defensive while others attacked his record as prime minister.
But instead, the opening segments of the night cornered Scheer into that posture. On social policies such as abortion and assisted dying, the Conservative leader faced three progressive opponents questioning his commitment to “Quebec values.” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would’ve likely joined in were she invited, but her party has no seats in Quebec. She wasn’t very happy about being left out:
Trudeau seemed to relish his first Scheer head-to-head, asking him right off the bat where he stood on the abortion issue.
The Tory leader basically dodged the question by repeating that he “would not reopen the debate” on women’s right to choose. He essentially repeated this answer a few times as similar attacks were levelled by the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh and Yves-Francois Blanchet of the Bloc Quebecois.
This gave Trudeau an opening to call Scheer out for “hiding” his real values because they don’t match those of Quebec’s.
Speaking of Quebec values, Singh dropped the first real hammer of the night during a discussion on Quebec’s Bill 21, which forbids public servants from wearing religious symbols while working.
Singh reiterated how he’s not going to challenge the law if elected, but found an opportunity to hammer Blanchet anyway by calling him “disgusting” for supporting restrictions for those who wear the niqab, or Muslim face veil.
You could see Blanchet bristle at the attack, which deviated from the tone of the debate up to that point. But Blanchet remained defiant by telling Singh to “respect the jurisdiction of the National Assembly” if he wanted to avoid divisiveness.
However, it was Scheer who made what was perhaps the best burn of the night. While debating environment policy, he called out Trudeau for being a “hypocrite” for having two planes fly him around during his cross-country tour, “one for the media and one for you and your costumes and canoes,” Scheer said. You could almost see the glee on his face when those words came out.
Trudeau tried to fire back by saying Scheer is the only leader whose party hasn’t purchased carbon offsets for its plane. Both men turned out to be right, but Scheer’s retort was definitely funnier.
Trudeau also endured an expected grilling from Scheer on SNC-Lavalin. The Liberal leader said he was looking out for Quebec jobs.
Scheer’s calm demeanour made it tough to really advance spirited attacks, but he managed to call Trudeau a liar in his handling of the scandal.
Trudeau also had to defend himself on buying the Trans Mountain pipeline while still campaigning as the most-progressive-on-climate candidate.
But other than that, Trudeau finished last night relatively unscathed considering all the mayhem surrounding his party this past year.
The Liberals hold 40 of Quebec’s 78 seats right now. It’s important for them to get that number or thereabouts for another victory this year, particularly with Trudeau’s post-scandal vulnerability. As of right now, they lead the Quebec polls at 34 percent. The Bloc and Conservatives are polling neck and neck at about 21 percent.
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